film school

5 films that inspired IndieFilm NYC

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Star Wars was the first movie I remember seeing in the theater, and like many young boys of my generation, it mesmerized me and started a lifelong love of movies.  Those early years were filled with movies like E.T., Back to the Future, Superman, Mad Max, Clash of the Titans, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and scores of others that were fun and entertaining.
I also had the good fortune that my grandfather was a projectionist, so I got to see tons of movies I might not have otherwise seen. I also learned how to changeover a reel and spent a lot of time up in the booth watching movies like Poltergeist, Endless Love and Krull. I think I saw Krull at least 9 times on the big screen.
Then, as I started to take film more seriously and start studying the art behind it all, there were a handful of directors and films that really struck an artistic chord with me. I was really drawn to Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, but if I had to make a list of my 5 “desert island” films, they would be …

Apocalypse Now

To me, Apocalypse Now is a perfect film. [The original version NOT NOT NOT the Redux]

I first saw this film when I was around 18 years old, and the behind the scenes documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” (1991) had just come out. At that time, I was getting into studying the history of films and trying to find out what went into great filmmaker’s processes, so the documentary had a lot of appeal to me. But before I watched the documentary, I thought watching the original film first was prudent.

Like many people, I was well aware of one of the films most famous lines, which comes when Sgt. Kilgore [played by the amazing actor Robert Duvall] informs us that “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” That line, how it’s delivered and every syllable that comes out of Sgt. Kilgore’s mouth is pure magic, but that’s just one line in a film where I can’t find a single flaw.

Whether you want to study how to write a great story, learn about pacing, watch great acting, see a film that perfectly portrays the Vietnam War, or just let yourself sink into an engaging film with an amazing soundtrack, this is one of those masterpiece films by a director who was at the top of his game at the time he made this movie. If you’re a student of filmmaking, this is one of those must see films that I would reccommend every filmmaker see.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola, and Michael Herr
The cast includes Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, and an scene stealing performance by the late Dennis Hopper.

* If wasn’t clear, I think the Redux was a self indulgent tragedy of a film. By adding in the deleted scenes, it waters down the focus of the story and just drags on for 4 hours. Sometimes there are very good reasons that an editor cuts a scene or scenes from a film.
** If you enjoy Apocalypse Now, then I definitely reccommend watching “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse”


Miller’s Crossing

I am a big fan of crime dramas and this under-rated Coen Brothers film is full of some great double crossing that keeps the viewer guessing.
The setting for the film is in New Orleans during the Prohibition-era, which is pretty unique since most Prohibition films are centered more in Chicago, for obvious reasons.  I discovered this film shortly before moving to New Orleans for college and I was instantly drawn to it. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched this movie.

The film pits Gabriel Byrne, the 2nd hand man of an Irish Mob, against both his own gang and the growing Italian Mob which is trying to take over the city and wipe out the Irish, all because Byrne is having an affair with the Irish Mob Boss’s girlfriend.

The Film is shot beautifully by Barry Sonnenfeld [of Men In Black fame] and the tone is gritty and dark.

This film is a master class in dialogue and how to write a crime mystery.

Directed & Written by Joel & Ethan Coen
The cast includes Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito and Albert Finney.

* You also can’t go wrong with some other great early Coen Brothers films like; Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Barton Fink.



The first time I saw this film I was about 12 years old and had borrowed a widescreen vhs copy of the film from my local library. The day I watched it, I ditched school, turned off the lights and sat tight for a wild ride.

From the opening credits, I realized that this wasn’t just the typical popcorn movie that I was used to as a young boy, but a work of art.

This may have been the first film I ever watched where a female character was allowed to carry a film. Obviously, the talent of Sigourney Weaver helped make this a fully rounded character that was a vulnerable human being who was able to summon up the courage to rise up and face an almost unstoppable force.

A lot of films today try to recreate the spirit of this film in that, boiled down to it’s core, it is a single-location contained horror film.

If you’re a screenwriter, then do yourself a favor and read the script as well. The unique style of the writing by Dan O’Bannon truely conveys the loneliness and cold of space. The tone of this film, without question, started in the writing of the screenplay.

Directed by Ridley Scott
The cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skeritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto.


Raging Bull

A film by Martin Scorsese, another great master at the top of his game, Raging Bull was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won A Best Actor Oscar for Robert De Niro and a second Oscar for Best Film Editing.

I saw this film at a time when I foolishly thought that black & white films weren’t worth my time, but my tune quickly changed when I saw the power that a master craftsman and some of the most talented actors in cinema could do.

Robert De Niro plays the great but troubled boxer Jake La Motta. There is a moment late in the film where Jake is in jail and punching a wall because he finally realizes that every bad thing that’s happened to him is of his own doing. It’ is one of those film moments that will resonate with a growing filmmaker because it is the kind of powerful emotion that can only be achieved through the perfect convergence of acting, directing and story . In some way, this is a scene which was both inevitable and unexpected at the same time, and De Niro gives the audience something so raw that it may have never been seen before.

As Americans, we often idolize our sports figures, but this film peels back the layers and shows us what can be deep down inside someone who seems so powerful to the outside world, but in the end has a frailty that many artists and people who put forth a public face can identify with.

Directed by Martin Scorsese
The cast includes Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty.


The Shining

The Shining was one of those movies that I had seen in whole or in part numerous times on broadcast TV throughout my life.  I had kind of made up my mind that it was an okay movie that had some crazy scenes with Jack Nicholson’s character, but I didn’t think it was a particularly scary movie.

Then in my freshman year of college [1994], they had a screening of the film on campus on a big screen.  I asked a couple friends to go, and I remember one girl not wanting to go because it was a “terrifying” movie.  I thought she was overblowing the horror aspect of the film.

So, that was the first time I saw the film in it’s entirety from beginning to end, no commercial breaks, nothing cut out for content of broadcast tv and in a dark theater… the way it was meant to be.

I had already been a fan of Stanley Kubrick, but it was after being mesmerized and terrified at the same time from the viewing of that film that I truly appreciated the mastery of that great director.  The detail of his films and how he infuses everything in those films with meaning and purpose is nothing short of genius.  Nothing in his movies is an accident.  That level of control over his art is impressive, to say the least.

I am of fan of all his films, but this is a film that I can watch over and over.  If you haven’t read anything about the making of this movie, particularly the mental manipulation of Shelly Duvall by both Kubrick and Nicholson, then do yourself a favor and google it, because it makes watching the movie that much more fascinating.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
The cast includes Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Scatman Crother.


So… What are your 5 favorite or most influential films?  Leave us a comment and let us know!



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